With the clock having expired on San Tan Foothills' season, senior running back Carlos Melendez kept his helmet on, trying to hold in the emotions of a two-week stretch that saw both improbable triumph and tragedy.
No. 14 seed San Tan's run as the Cinderella in the Division V state semifinals ended with a 51-15 loss to No.2 Yuma Catholic on Saturday at Arcadia High School, which allowing Yuma to advance to the state championship game against Phoenix Northwest Christian.
"I just wish we were playing next week," Melendez said. "I know we played our heart out and we didn't get down. I know I gave my team everything I had and the team gave everything it had."
San Tan Foothills was held to just 70 yards rushing and 84 yards passing and scored once on offense when quarterback Mychael Bruce connected with Jason Gale late in the third quarter with the game out of reach.
The Sabercats first touchdown came when Melendez intercepted a Tommy Pistone pass on a patented Yuma Catholic quick-out and returned it 56 yards to give San Tan Foothills a 7-6 lead after the extra point.
"We knew that's what they would do," Melendez said. "We were prepared for that play."
But the undermanned Sabercats had just 24 players - most of them two-way starters - could not slow down a powerful Yuma Christian running attack. Yuma Catholic scored 30 unanswered points from the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the third.
"They just took us out of some of our stuff early," Sabercats coach Rodger Schenks said. "They are just a really good team."
The Sabercats made a surprise run into the playoffs after having won just four games their previous two seasons playing an independent schedule, upset Thatcher, 33-27, in the first round.
The team was beset by tragedy on Nov. 9th when the father of lineman Tyler Howe was killed in a motorcycle accident. San Tan rallied around Howe last week, however, defeating Morenci, 43-13, in the second round behind a 46-carry 395-yard performance from Melendez.
But in the rematch of both team's regular season finale, won by Yuma Catholic, 70-55, it was evident that the Sabercats had run out of gas against a much deeper opponent.
"With everything we've gone through the last two weeks, I'm just so proud of my guys," an emotional Schenks said. "Those guys are exactly the kind of people anyone would want representing their program."